Korean Alphabet – A Quick Guide to Hangul

If you want to learn Hangul, you’re in the right place. 🫰

Korean Alphabet – A Quick Guide to Hangul

The Korean alphabet, referred to as Hangul within South Korea, is the official writing system of the Korean language. Created in the 15th century by King Sejong the Great to increase literacy, Hangul is renowned for its simplicity and logical design. Although the Korean language is one of the hardest languages to learn for English speakers, Hangul enables ease of learning and pronunciation for everyone starting to learn Korean.

Whether you’re a BTS fan (aka the Bangtan Boys, a South Korean boy band) or a Korean culture enthusiast in general, Hangul is the perfect starting point if you want to delve deeper into your passion. So, let’s learn the Korean alphabet!

History of Hangul – World’s Most Ingenious Alphabet

Usually, we don’t discuss history when it comes to writing systems, but the history of Hangul is absolutely fascinating, and you’ll surely want to find out more.

The Korean alphabet, also known as Hangul or Hangeul in South Korea and Chosŏn’gŭl in North Korea, was invented in 1443 by King Sejong the Great, the fourth king in Korea’s Joseon dynasty.

For hundreds of years, before Hangul was created, Koreans wrote using Classical Chinese characters (which they called Hanja) alongside other native phonetic writing systems. However, many lower-class people didn’t know how to read or write because of the fundamental differences between Korean and Chinese and the large number of Chinese characters. After all, even today, many people find Chinese and Japanese very difficult to learn because of their complex writing systems.

Thus, to help more common people become literate, King Sejong the Great personally created and promulgated a new alphabet: the Korean alphabet. The new writing system was designed so people with little or no education could easily learn to read and write.

hangul sejong
“King Sejong the Great, creator of Hangul” by Mathew Schwartz©

A document published in 1446 and discovered in 1940 explains that the design of the Korean consonants mimics their articulator’s shape and phonetic features when pronouncing them and the vowels are based on the principles of vowel harmony and yin and yang.

Opposition and revival

But that’s not how the story ends. The new alphabet faced opposition from the literary elite, who believed Hanja was the only legitimate writing system and saw the circulation of the Korean alphabet as a threat to their status. Nonetheless, the Korean alphabet entered popular culture and was especially used by women and popular fiction writers.

In 1504, King Yeonsangun banned the study and publication of the Korean alphabet after documents and posters criticizing him were published.

However, the late 16th and 17th centuries saw a revival of the Korean alphabet when poetry and novels written in the Korean alphabet flourished.

Then, thanks to Korean nationalism and Western missionaries’ promotion of the Korean alphabet, Hangul (a term coined by linguist Ju Si-gyeong in 1912) was adopted in official documents for the first time in 1894.

The use of Hangul met even more opposition and reforms under Japanese rule, but it eventually became the exclusive writing system in both North and South Korea after 1950.

Guide to the Korean Alphabet

The Korean alphabet or Hangul consists of 40 letters:

  • 24 basic letters
    • 14 consonants (ㄱ ㄴ ㄷ ㄹ ㅁ ㅂ ㅅ ㅇ ㅈ ㅊ ㅋ ㅌ ㅍ ㅎ)
    • 10 vowels (ㅏ ㅑ ㅓ ㅕ ㅗ ㅛ ㅜ ㅠ ㅡ ㅣ)
  • 16 complex letters (formed by combining the basic letters)
    • 11 complex vowels
    • 5 double consonants

The name “Hangeul” combines the Korean word han (한) – meaning “great” – and geul (글) – meaning “script”. However, the word han is also used to refer to Korea in general, so the name can also translate to “Korean script”.

Unlike Chinese or Japanese, which have hundreds or even thousands of characters – each with 10, 15, or even more strokes – the most complex Korean character has only five strokes. Besides, Hangul is a very scientific alphabet. Once you manage to understand the logic behind it, Korean writing becomes easier.

Korean characters are called jamo (자모), and they are written in syllabic blocks arranged in two dimensions. One such block always has exactly one syllable. For example, to write “honeybee” in Korean (kkulbeol), you’ll write 꿀벌, not ㄲㅜㄹㅂㅓㄹ. Today, Korean texts are typically written from left to right, with spaces between words and Western-style punctuation.

As mentioned earlier, Hangul is a featural writing system. This means that Korean symbols mimic the shape of the mouth made when the corresponding sound is created. Absolutely fascinating! Let’s go into a little more detail and see how to pronounce the letters of the Korean alphabet.

Step-by-Step Guide to Korean Consonant Pronunciation

Languages from different language groups rarely resemble each other. Thus, it’s very difficult to explain the sounds of a language using the letters of another. In our context, this means that there is no perfect way to represent Korean characters using Latin/English letters or sounds. The English letters we will use to explain how to pronounce the letters of the Korean alphabet are the closest representation possible.

To better understand how to pronounce Hangul, it’s best to go to language learning apps such as Mondly, where crystal-clear audios recorded by fluent voice actors will help you understand the pronunciation particularities of the Korean language.

For example, the sounds of the 14 consonants (or the extended list of 19) of the Korean language change depending on whether they appear at the beginning, in the middle, or at the end of a syllable. Here’s a Korean alphabet chart with consonants for beginners to help you get started:

korean consonants chart
Korean consonants chart for beginners

As you can see, the complex or double consonants are in a different color on the last row of the chart. Additionally, under each consonant, you’ll find its corresponding sound at the beginning and at the end of the syllable. Some of them have identical sounds regardless of their place in the syllable. Furthermore, some of them are silent and some of them are never used syllable-finally (like ㄸ, ㅃ, and ㅉ).

Take “ㅇ” for example, which is silent when it is at the beginning of the syllable and it is used as a placeholder when the syllable starts with a vowel.

Let’s see some other Korean consonants whose sounds transform due to location changes in a word.

  • : 죽 [chuk] – “porridge” and 콩죽 [k’ong-juk] – “bean porridge”;
  • ㅂ: 밥 [pap] – “rice” and 보리밥 [poribap] – “barley mixed with rice”
  • ㄱ: 공 [kong] – “ball” and 새 공 [saegong] – “new ball”

It may seem a bit overwhelming now, but with some study, you’ll eventually master all these rules. The secret is to see all the Korean symbols in action in an actual context. Just make sure you start practicing Korean with Mondly and you won’t be sorry. Speaking your first words in Korean takes just 10 minutes a day.

Comprehensive Guide to Korean Vowel Pronunciation

The Korean vowels are generally separated into two categories: monophthongs and diphthongs. While monophthongs are produced with a single articular movement, diphthongs feature an articulatory change and typically consist of two elements: a glide (or a semivowel) and a monophthong.

The best part about Korean vowels is that they are easier to learn because they don’t change depending on their position in the syllable. Here’s a Korean alphabet chart to help you with vowel pronunciation:

korean vowels chart
Korean vowels chart for beginners

The ones that are represented with a different color on the last two rows are the 11 complex vowels that combine basic letters.

There you have it! Now you know all the Korean characters. Make sure to practice what you’ve learned, and you can say you officially mastered Korean writing. Good job, you!


Korean Letters Design

The alphabetic order of the Korean alphabet is called ganada (가나다 순) and it does not mix consonants and vowels. Rather, consonants come first and vowels come next.

Now, when you’re learning Korean for beginners, it is sometimes useful to know the names of the Korean letters. If you don’t know how to pronounce a word, you could spell it using these names. However, they should only be used as a guide in the beginning. Don’t rely on this kind of trick for a long period of time, or you’ll risk never mastering the art of the Hangul.

Korean Alphabet Chart: Consonant Names

Korean consonantName of the consonantRomanized spelling

As you can see, the table also includes the complex consonants. Let’s move on to vowels and see what their names are!

Korean Alphabet Chart: Vowel Names

Vowel/Name of the vowelRomanized spelling

Because the vowels’ names are actually the sounds they make, this bit will be easier to remember. Good luck!

Genius of Hangul: Korean Pronunciation

For an untrained eye, Korean characters might seem meaningless, but there’s a much more complex story behind them. Scripts can transcribe languages at the level of morphemes (logographic scripts like Hanja), syllables (syllabaries like Japanese kana), segments (alphabetic scripts like the Latin script we use in English), or, sometimes, distinctive features. Well, imagine that the Korean alphabet incorporates aspects of the latter three.

Hangul groups sounds into syllables, uses distinct symbols for segments and sometimes uses distinct strokes to indicate distinctive features like the place of articulation (labial, coronal, velar, glottal), the manner of articulation (plosive, nasal, sibilant, aspiration) and so on.

The consonants fall into five homorganic groups – each with its own basic shape. We must not forget that the Korean symbols for consonants mimic the shape of the mouth when the corresponding sound is created. Let’s explore the basic shape of each group:

  • velar consonants (ㄱ g [k], ㅋ ḳ [kʰ]): is a side view of the back of the tongue raised toward the velum; is derived from with an extra stroke for the burst of aspiration.
  • sibilant consonants (ㅅ s [s], ㅈ j [tɕ], ㅊ ch [tɕʰ]): represents a side view of the teeth and the horizontal line at the top of represents the firm contact with the roof of your mouth; the horizontal stroke topping represents an additional burst of aspiration.
  • coronal consonants ( n [n], d [t], [tʰ], r [ɾ, l]): is a side view of the tip of the tongue raised toward the gum ridge; the horizontal line at the top of represents steady contact with the roof of the mouth; the middle stroke on represents a burst of aspiration and the top of ㄹ represents a flap of the tongue.
  • bilabial consonants ( m [m], b [p], [pʰ]) represents the shape of the lips brought together; the top of represents the release burst of the b, the top horizontal stroke of is for the burst of aspiration.
  • dorsal consonants (ㅇ ‘/ng [ʔ, ŋ], h [h]) – is an outline of the throat and is pronounced in the throat with a close represented by the top horizontal line. The extra vertical stroke represents a burst of aspiration.
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Moving to vowels, their design is based on three elements:

  • a horizontal line representing Earth, the essence of yin ;
  • a point for the Sun, the essence of yang (in modern Hangeul the heavenly dot has mutated into a short line);
  • a vertical line for the human, the mediator between Heaven and Earth .

korean alphabet hangul

Additional Tips for Learning Hangul

Another thing you need to master in Korean writing is letter placement within block shapes. It’s been said that there are around 11,000 block shapes possible in the Korean alphabet. So, how do you place a letter within a block? Do you have to remember them all by heart?

Don’t worry. No. Once you understand the logic behind letter placement within a block, Korean writing will become a piece of cake for you. Here are some tips:

  • if the vowel consists of a long vertical line likeㅏ, ㅑ, ㅓ, ㅕ, or , the consonant accompanying it will take the first (or the left) half of the block and the vowel will be written in the second half: ㅂ + ㅣ = 비 (bi) or ㅇ + ㅏ = 아 (a);
  • if the vowel consists of a long horizontal line like ㅗ, ㅛ, ㅜ, ㅠ, or ㅡ, the consonant accompanying it will be written on the upper half of the block and the vowel in the lower half: ㅋ + ㅠ = 큐 (kyu) or ㅇ + ㅗ = 오 (o);
  • if you have a consonant and a vowel and then another final consonant attached at the end, the second consonant letter will be written at the very bottom of the block shape and will be called 받침 batchim (“supporting floor”): 부 + ㄹ = 불 (bul) or 아 + ㄴ = 안 (an);
  • if the vowel combines orientations (has both a long vertical line and a long horizontal line like ), then it will wrap around the initial character from the bottom to the right:ㅇ+ ㅢ = 의 (ui).

Before you go, make sure you check out these frequently asked questions.

How long does it take to learn Hangul?

Hangul can be learned in as little as a couple of hours. According to a popular Korean saying about Hangul and its characters, “a wise man can acquaint himself with them [the characters] before the morning is over; a stupid man can learn them in the space of ten days”.

What are the benefits of learning Hangul?

Learning Hangul offers numerous benefits, including a key to understanding the Korean language, improved communication with Korean speakers, a deeper understanding of Korean culture, access to a wealth of resources in Korean, enhanced career prospects, personal development through cognitive challenges, demonstration of cultural sensitivity, and enriched travel experiences in South Korea.

What are some common mistakes that learners make when learning Hangul?

Some common mistakes that learners make when learning Hangul include incorrect Korean pronunciation due to not fully understanding the phonetic system, confusion between similar-looking Korean characters, overlooking the importance of stroke order in writing characters, and neglecting to practice writing characters regularly. Additionally, learners may struggle with memorizing character combinations and syllable structures, which can lead to difficulties in reading and writing Korean words correctly.

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It can be tricky to master Korean pronunciation if you don’t actively live in a Korean-speaking country. But with Mondly, you’ll have access to a unique, fast and highly efficient learning method that allows you to learn Korean naturally with practical topics, authentic conversations and bite-sized Daily Lessons.

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Diana Lăpușneanu - Linguist at Mondly Blog

Diana is a Linguist at Mondly by Pearson. Learning English as a second language early on fueled her lifelong passion for language learning, leading her to pursue a diverse array of languages as a hobby alongside her academic endeavors. With a Master’s Degree in advertising and a fascination for historical linguistics, she brings a unique perspective to her role, making language learning fun for readers worldwide.

73 comments on “Korean Alphabet – A Quick Guide to Hangul

    1. Hi Marisse! I’m glad to hear that. If you want to learn more about Korean, get Mondly and enjoy your ride to Korean fluency. Good luck! ❤️

    2. I am BTS army I want to talk with BTS with korean language but it is too difficult for me but I am army I will learn korean and I talk with BTS in korean

  1. I really want to learn korean and its very good and easy way to learn hangul its very helpful for me not only korean alphabet I learn many more things about “hangeul script ” 🙂

    1. Hi Simran! I’m glad to hear that. If you want to learn Korean, get Mondly and enjoy your ride to Korean fluency. Happy learning! ❤️

    1. Hey, thanks for providing such useful insights into the Korean language!!
      But, I’m finding it really hard to understand the alphabets and their placements. Can you explain it in some other way if possible? I’m really interested in learning Korean!

    1. Thanks for providing such an easy way to learn hangul….now I know how these sound works in korean words.,
      Thank you so much

  2. Hello!
    I am really interested in learning Korean language. Because I am a great fan (army) of BTS!!
    A big Thank you for these notes. This will definitely help me to learn basics!!

    1. Me too , they are the best.I don’t get alot of army’s where I live.Plus people make fun of me for liking k-pop and dramma.

    2. I wouldn’t call myself an army but Im a big fan of the BTS. They are the reason why I want to learn korean. They are all my favorite but I think I like Jimin alot. I couldn’t really learn the basic stuff but I’ll learn sometime.

  3. Hi, im learning korean now, but i kinda find it difficult and hard to understand of what is the meaning of the slash part, like for example g/k. what does it mean?

    1. Hi Anne! The spelling of the Hangul consonants changes depending on whether they are positioned at the start or the end of the syllable. Therefore, the “g” before the slash is how you spell “ㄱ” at the beginning of a syllable and the “k” after the slash is how you spell it at the end.

    2. Hi Anne,
      I am Lydia from Ghana who is very interested in learning the Korean language I would be very grateful if you help me learn it 😊

  4. Am in Uganda but am a fan of Korean bands I want to travel with some alphabets in my head I want mooreeee….

  5. Thank you for the insight into the structure of Korean language. You explanation on hoe consonants can change sound based on positioning. I never knew anything about the blocks. So the one block for on syllable wound mean is there was 3 syllable in one sentence there would be three blocks? Great stuff hear, thank you so much!

  6. Hi, sis Diana, thank you for sharing this info, just one thing I am confused of when I should be pronounce the r/l, p/b, g/k ?because I have seen that those have the same symbols.

    1. Hi Lessie! 💖
      The spelling of the Hangul consonants changes depending on whether they are positioned at the start or the end of the syllable. Therefore, the “r” before the slash is how you spell “ㄹ” at the beginning of a syllable and the “l” after the slash is how you spell it at the end.

  7. How to pronounce korean language . I’m bug fan of BTS and k drama so i want to learn it as soon as possible 💜

  8. Now I can learn the Korea language.
    Indeed it was helpful
    Love to learn more…

    1. I am actually a Korean but I’ve been leaving in Los Angeles since I was born, I can speak but not read or write Korean so this was really helpful, thank you.

  9. Hi Diana, Excellent job! The way the explanations are written are clear and informational (history, placement of tongue in mouth to the science of the language, etc.). The pic of the alphabet with how the sounds would be depending on their placement is very helpful too. THANK YOU!!

    1. Hi Michelle!
      Thank you very much 😊. I’m glad you like it ❤️

  10. Thanks I am very interested in learning Korean
    I always watch k pop drama and I am fans of blackpink ,BTS,twice,exo

  11. Is it possible to learn to read and write if I can’t hear the pronunciation? I’m hearing impaired.

    1. Hi Lenora 👋
      It will be a bit harder, but yes, it is possible. I did some research and found this discussion between people who have the same struggle as you. Hope it helps.
      Hugs 🧡

  12. Hi diana! I just have a question for you because its confusing my siblings and me. In english the name is pronounced “lulu” but what i learnt is that ㄹ (rieul) is pronounced as r/l, and i dont know if this is true but “r” is used when the the character is the first letter of the word, so is lulu pronounced “ruru” in korean? (sorry for the bad grammar)

    1. Hi Azaan 👋
      It really depends. Your logic is correct, but when it comes to names from other languages, you can keep the original pronunciation. Thus, you can safely stick to Lulu.
      Hope this helps 🧡

  13. It confused me..can anybody help me understand why Hello is Annyeonghaseyo? Or why Thank you is Kamsahamnida? If i look at the korean alphabet,I didn’t see the translation of English word into korean word.

  14. Hi,,, I’m not fan of any group of band but I really like k drama.
    Please help me how to write and understand Korean language

  15. Is it possible to turn OFF the romanized subtitles/translations? I absolutely hate them. If I really want to learn a language with its own alphabet, it’s completely messy and counterproductive to read it in another alphabet!

    1. Hi Emilia!
      Yes, it is possible to do this. To switch to Hangul, simply tap the upper right button in any lesson.
      Let me know if you succeeded.

  16. Thank you for this simple translation. Other classes were making things so difficult, especially for a 13 year old. So
    감사 해요!!!!!

    1. thank you I was teaching my friends korean since I am fluent in korean but for extra practice I needed to give something which could help them so I sent this link to this website and because of that they could learn korean faster and I could take a break

  17. I am actually a Korean but I’ve been leaving in Los Angeles since I was born, I can speak but not read or write Korean so this was really helpful, thank you.

  18. I am very interested to learn the Korean language and from the previous day I am trying. if any better suggestions or better apps please provide me anyone.

  19. Mulțumesc, Diana. 💖 Great explanations, very clear and helpful. 😎
    I’ve become very curious about the Korean culture and language. I don’t know who BTS might be (they are probably far too young for me), I’m here because of 김독자, 유중혁, and the others… 😉
    I seriously expect ‘Omniscient Reader’s Viewpoint’ to become the greatest novel of the 21st century to take the world by storm as it becomes available to international readerships. Remember those names. 🙂

  20. شكرا جزيلا على صناعه مثل هذا التعليم المفهم عكس باقي المواقع معقده بفضلك وصلت للموستوى 49شكرا

  21. Thank u very much for giving such easier and useful tips.
    It really makes korean learning good. And I am a BTS army ⟬⟭💜

  22. I really love Korean but I want to knw the difference between Gamsaminida and all those that r written in Korean alphabets

  23. Anneong I want to talk to a friend in korean but it to difficult for me so i want to learn

  24. thanks so much for quick lesson.
    is it possible to get these charts in print?
    thank you.

  25. I learned to read and write in 3 hours! I guess this categorize me in the wise people league!
    Reference: “a wise man can acquaint himself with them [the characters] before the morning is over; a stupid man can learn them in the space of ten days“.
    Thank you, Diana!

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